Following is the fifth story in a series that tells the tale of the first hero to go on a journey to discover his calling.
It was strange—the teleportation, the writhing gate, his unfailing good mood—all of it.
First an evil sorceress had taken him from the mountaintops back to his village—a distance that had taken him over a week to cross on foot—in the blink of an eye. (He felt as if he had perhaps left his stomach back on the peak, but other than that he seemed quite fine.)
And then he had come across the gate—clearly made of metal, it was nevertheless writhing and hissing and apparently eager to eat him for breakfast—and yet it didn’t phase him in the slightest.
Nothing, in fact, seemed to bother him right now. And that was the third odd thing about this day—his infallibly cheery disposition.
He couldn’t stop thinking about what he had discovered in the mountains—that his ability to see the multicolored lightning marked him as a child of the Serpent God. And every time he did, he was filled with what felt like liquid sunlight from his core all the way out through his fingers and toes.
He couldn’t deny it. Knowing he was the son of a god felt good.
It made retracing his steps from just outside his village back towards the looming mountains not just bearable but enjoyable; he didn’t mind going over the same old ground so much because the new knowledge made the path seem different somehow, more exciting and purposeful. And it gave him time to savor the implications of his discovery.
He’d never liked serpents, ever since he was a boy and his brothers had tormented him by throwing ropes on him, yelling “Snake!” and then laughing hysterically as he screamed and put as much distance between himself and the rope as he could, which too often involved climbing a tree or scaling the side of a building.
But it had been a snake—albeit a dead one—that had helped him realize that something was calling him to do more than farm alongside his family. The snake had helped him realize that he wasn’t happy in the life he had, and that he could perhaps help himself—and his village—by admitting this and following the call he felt to find out what else was out there. It was this call that had led him to the mountains in the first place.
He didn’t know who the Serpent God was, or if it was the same as the snake he sometimes saw in times of need. He did have a sense that his relationship to the Serpent God could explain a lot, if only he knew more, and perhaps even clarify why he alone was dissatisfied with farming in his village, and why nobody else seemed to feel the call that he did.
And he couldn’t help but dream that perhaps it meant something even more. With more than a little excitement he envisioned himself going through a number of trials and tribulations that he alone could overcome due to the superpowers he possessed as the son of a god. He imagined himself traveling to distant lands and conquering evil spirits so that he could return to his village in triumph, having saved them from a malevolent force they hadn’t even known existed.
He could almost taste the admiration, the gratitude, the reverence he would feel when he returned and shared his story of how he alone had saved the world and everyone in it.
It was this, in fact, that he was thinking about when he stumbled upon the gate.
He was entering the forest at the base of the mountains for a second time on what he thought was the same path he had traveled before. But the last time around he hadn’t seen this gate, and he was pretty sure he couldn’t have missed it.
It was huge, almost as tall as the largest tree. It was black and dark brown and looked like it was made of various metals.
After staring at it for a few moments, however, Little One saw that it was moving. It appeared to be writhing and shifting, as if hundreds of snakes were sliding over and under each other along the length of the post.
And there was hissing. It grew louder the closer he got to the gate.
Little One sensed that the snakes were perhaps angry, or hungry, or maybe both. And yet it didn’t break his mood. In fact, he remained cheerful and confident and was even smiling a bit as he stepped through the gate’s threshold.
It was what he found on the other side that finally destroyed his good humor.
As soon as he stepped through the gate a man appeared in front of him. One moment there were only shadows and the next the man had taken shape. The man was tall, dark, and well-built—well-defined muscles were showing at the edge of his clothes.
“Well-met, brother!” he called in a deep voice.
“Hello,” Little One said, his voice sounding unusually high.
“We weren’t expecting anyone else for a good while, but you’re quite welcome,” said the muscular man.
“Thank you,” said Little One. The man kept looking at him, as if waiting for something, but he couldn’t think of anything else to say.
“Well,” the man finally said, “would you like to see the city?”
Little One looked all around him. He didn’t see anything except trees and earth. “Um, what city is that?” he finally asked.
“Why, the city of the children of the Serpent God,” said the man, his white teeth showing through his smile. “That is why you came, isn’t it? Come, brother, and meet all your siblings!”
* * *
The man—whose name was Sebastian Little One later learned—had walked to the nearest large tree and pressed a hand against its trunk, at which point the earth moved aside with a humph and a stairway opened up at its roots.
Little One followed Sebastian down the steps into an underground tunnel. The sides of the tunnel glowed slightly and the ground turned different colors as their feet moved across it.
Sebastian had turned to him and laughed at the expression on his face. “It’s pretty cool, I know,” he said. “That was one of your sisters’ inventions. We’re so lucky to have such creative powers. Have you invented anything, Little One?”
Little One felt something uncomfortable rise in his chest. “Um, no, not yet,” he mumbled.
Sebastian looked at him for a moment and then turned and kept walking. Before long they had arrived in a giant, well-lit chamber. The walls glowed with scenes of trees, mountains, and rivers laid over the stone. Little One looked up and saw that the top of the chamber was blue and infinite, like the sky, and there were what appeared to be clouds hovering below it.
“Well, this is the workshop,” Sebastian said. “This is where it all starts, the plans for all the tunnels and canals, the magical gardens, the instruments of justice. All of the inventors work here.”
Little One just stared at him.
“Of course, the questers have a different headquarters.”
“Yes, those of us who prefer to put the inventions to use. We travel about looking for corrupt rulers, malevolent spirits, evil sorcerers, that kind of thing. So we can quell them and bring them to justice,” he added.
“I met an evil sorceress the other day who definitely needed some quelling,” Little One said.
“Nice! How did you vanquish her?” Sebastian asked.
“I, um, didn’t do what she told me to,” said Little One. He had a hard time getting out the last words.
“Well,” said Sebastian, “I’m sure she had it coming.” He turned around to fully face Little One. “You know, I’m glad I stuck around to see you come through the gate. I saw you staring at it and thought you were just a regular human. I almost stayed invisible and came straight in. But then something told me to wait, and I saw you step through without getting bitten by one of the snakes. So I knew you were one of us.”
Little One felt like his brain was made of molasses. He was having a hard time processing everything Sebastian said, but one word stuck out in his mind. “Invisible?” he asked.
“Oh, yeah. You know how it is, you get lazy and don’t want to reappear unless you have to. Of course it’s not as tiring as flying, but it still takes an effort, am I right?”
Little One nodded.
“Still, I can’t complain. I mean, we can fly, right?! Being the child of a god is awesome, even if it takes a lot of work.”
Little One’s stomach dropped. He couldn’t fly. He had no idea how to become invisible. He’d never invented anything in his life, nor beaten anyone at anything, let alone vanquished them.
Just then a girl looked up from what she was working on, noticed them, and walked over.
“Sebastian, you’re not overwhelming our new guest, are you?” she asked.
Sebastian shook his head. “Nope, just showing him the ropes.”
The girl held out her hand to Little One. “I’m Ginger,” she said. “This is Sebastian. And you are…?”
“Little One,” he said, the words barely audible.
“Nice to meet you, Little One,” Ginger said, smiling wide. “Hey, I’m working on a problem that has me stumped. Would you be willing to help me try to figure it out?”
Little One nodded and followed her into the workshop.
* * *
It was hard to tell how much time had passed. All the rooms were underground, and the scenes on the walls pretty much always showed daylight—only at what seemed like random intervals did the sun on the wall go down and a moon rise on the other side.
Still, Little One fell into a rhythm that felt almost natural. He ate and slept and helped Ginger on her project. He wasn’t sure what she was building, but helping her with whatever she needed was the only way he avoided feeling the increasingly uncomfortable pressure building in his chest.
It had started the moment he’d met Sebastian in the woods. It had continued to build, almost daily, as he learned more about the city of the children of the Serpent God.
He hadn’t stopped to think about it much. Whenever he felt it building he simply went to look for Ginger to see if he could help her with anything else. If she didn’t need help, one of the other inventors almost always did.
Days passed this way, or perhaps weeks or months. Little One didn’t care. It had occurred to him at some point that maybe this was what he was meant to do. He was, after all, exactly where he belonged, alongside his true brothers and sisters. Perhaps this city had been what was calling him all along.
Then one day he woke up and the pressure was more intense than it had ever been before. H went to look for Ginger. But this time as he approached her, she didn’t greet him with a smile. Instead, she looked at him with a thoughtful frown on her face.
“Little One, what on earth are you still doing here?” she asked.
He wasn’t sure what she meant. “You don’t want me to help you on your project? I can go see if someone else wants help.” He tried to sound casual.
“No,” Ginger shook her head sadly. “Sorry, that’s not what I meant. Of course I want your help. I never would have gotten this far without you.” She offered him a small smile. “What I mean is, why are you still here in the city? Why are you ignoring your call?”
Little One just looked at her. “I don’t know what you mean.”
“You’re not happy here, I can see it.”
“But I am. Of course I am! I mean, everyone here is so incredible. I’m working on something exciting. I have good food, a place to sleep, and plenty of time to relax. Of course I’m happy!”
“Yes, but you’re not. There’s no joy in your work, no love, no passion. You haven’t yet found your unique gift.”
Little One winced. “I can’t turn invisible,” he said softly. “I don’t think I’ll ever learn to fly. I’m not an inventor, or a warrior. I’m not anything. Maybe I don’t have a gift, Ginger. Maybe what I’m supposed to do is just help you with this—whatever it is that we’re building.” His stomach sank as he finished.
“Look,” Ginger said. “I know it’s hard when you first get here and see how talented everyone is. And it’s true, those are all gifts of the Serpent God. But they’re not the only ones. There’s also love, harmony, beauty, and many more. And one of his most sacred gifts is that of perception.”
“Yes, perception. Discernment. Vision. Ability to discover the truth.”
Little One laughed. “And how is that helpful? Who wants to have vision? What great inventions have been built with discernment? What famous villain has ever fallen to the sword of truth?”
He was being sarcastic, but Ginger just nodded her head. “All of them, Little One,” she said. Then she looked up at him, meeting his eyes. “But let me ask you this: Why does it only count for you when it’s big? Tell me, is there nothing to be said for depth?”
Little One’s throat tightened. “The world needs big accomplishments, Ginger. I thought for a moment that I might create one of them. But I see now that I’m not as special as I once thought.”
Ginger looked down at the tool in her hands. “Perhaps,” she said softly, “it is not for you to know the size of your accomplishments. Perhaps what’s important is not to be big, or special, or accomplished. Perhaps what is needed is to play your part, whatever that part is, to the best of your ability. Perhaps that is enough.”
Little One wasn’t sure what to say. “I don’t know. It doesn’t feel like enough.”
“I know,” Ginger said. “I know. But let me tell you something. My father—the one who raised me, not the Serpent God—was a good man, but he was crippled as a child in an accident. Other people in the village dismissed him because he couldn’t work. His family gave him food, but they scorned him, believing he was worthless and had nothing to contribute.”
Tears began to well in the corner of Ginger’s eyes. “But my experience of my father was completely different. I was considered a strange girl in my village. People didn’t understand why, but they sensed that I wasn’t entirely like them. They didn’t include me in their games, and some of them made fun of me. Most never really understood me.
“My father did, though. He saw me—the real me—and he never let me think for a second that just because I was different I wasn’t okay. He loved me in the purest, most unconditional way any person can love another human being. And I honestly think if it hadn’t been for him, I would never have survived childhood, would never have heard my call, would never have had the courage to leave my village and come find my destiny here.”
She looked him in the eyes again. “And isn’t that enough, Little One? Will you tell me that that isn’t enough?”
Little One shook his head. “It is,” he said. “It absolutely is.”
* * *
Three days later, Ginger’s invention was ready. Little One still didn’t know what it was, but Ginger had promised he would find out when it was time.
They were standing next to the gate with their bags packed and filled with food. Everyone from the city had come above ground to wish them farewell.
There were lots of hugs and well-wishes and even some tears. Little One realized how well-liked Ginger was among their siblings, and it made him appreciate her courage all the more that she was willing to leave the security of her home yet again to step into the unknown.
She had shared with him after their conversation the other day that it was slowly becoming clear to her that it was time to move on—again. She loved the city of the children of the Serpent God, but she felt in her bones that she was being pulled onward.
She had asked Little One if he felt the same way. “I do,” he’d said, and was surprised to find how clearly he knew it to be true.
He was even more surprised that he was also clear that he was meant to do so with Ginger. She had simply nodded when he’d told her this, as if she already knew.
As they said goodbye to everyone—muscular Sebastian included—Little One realized that the uncomfortable pressure in his chest was gone. His voice was loud and clear when he said his good-byes, and he wasn’t troubled by the accomplishments of his siblings, or the fact that he couldn’t fly.
He felt glad that somebody could. And he was hopeful that someday he might learn. But most of all he felt curious to find out what his gift from the Serpent God would be, and eager to use it however he could.
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